How this rookie Jersey congresswoman helped drive the Trump impeachment probe

Updated Sep 25, 2019

WASHINGTON — As the first Democrat in more than three decades to represent a northern New Jersey congressional district that had backed Donald Trump in 2016, Rep. Mikie Sherrill consistently shied away from calling for impeachment proceedings against the president.

That changed, big-time, after the revelations about Trump and Ukraine. And suddenly, Sherrill went from the sidelines to the nation’s limelight.

She and six fellow first-term Democrats with backgrounds in the military or intelligence — all from swing districts — switched gears and called for impeachment proceedings.

Washington noticed. The impeachment debate heated up, and on Tuesday House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., announced that the House Democratic majority would officially begin an impeachment inquiry.

“I think we all understood the implications of this right away," Sherrill told CNN. "Many of us, if not all of us, have worked overseas. We’ve worked with foreign governments. We’ve worked to protect our national security and democracy, so this was a red line.”

Sherrill had been a holdout on impeachment, instead focusing on the issues that got her elected to the House such as health care, taxes and gun safety, not by going after the president.

But the former Navy pilot and federal prosecutor felt she had no choice but to reverse course following reports that the president held up military aid to Ukraine and then asked the country to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden, a leading 2020 Democratic presidential candidate.

“When you go to a foreign power and attempt to influence our elections at home, that won’t stand,” she told The Star-Ledger’s Tom Moran.

Sherrill’s chops gave her heft that many other first-termers lack, and helped drive the debate.

“Somebody coming in with no previous political experience and coming from a position that is widely revered by Americans and having command and operational responsibilities — she was behind the controls — makes it a very compelling narrative and therefore makes what she says more resonant,” said Ross Baker, a political science professor at Rutgers University.

So when she joined six colleagues who also came to Congress with military or national security backgrounds, that carried a lot more weight.

“It blows a hole completely through Trump’s claim that this is a partisan witch hunt,” Democratic consultant Glenn Totten said.

“You had seven individuals spending their careers defending this nation. They come from swing districts that were not rallying around impeachment. These seven individuals stood up in a way that made people realize there was no more time to wait.”

Rep. Bill Pascrell Jr. said the willingness to take that stand despite hailing from competitive districts resonated with their colleagues and led to an increasing number of Democratic calls to go ahead and look at impeachment proceedings.

“It got a lot of people thinking that were on the fence, ‘Hey, if they can do it , we’re in tough districts, why can we do it?’” said Pascrell, D-9th Dist. “I’m sure it contributed. I commend them for doing what they did.”

Sherrill, in particular, commanded more attention because her north Jersey district is in the New York City media market. That also carries more weight, Baker said.

Her victory last November in a district that gave Trump a plurality of votes in 2016 ended more than three decades of Republican representation in the district, and she already faced a difficult re-election campaign.

So her decision to throw her lot in with impeachment was especially noticeable and signaled how serious she felt the charges were. She was the kind of incumbent Pelosi sought to protect by delaying a call for impeachment proceedings, even as a majority of the House Democratic caucus clamored for action.

“Mikie Sherrill’s seat is the type of seat Democrats must have to continue holding the House,” said Matthew Hale, a political science professor at Seton Hall University. “She’s central casting for the type of Democrat who appeals to these suburban voters, who are not into Trump but are not left-wing. She’s the type of candidate who appeals to the swing districts that Democrats need to have.”

National Republican Congressional Committee spokesman Michael McAdams said Sherrill’s position on impeachment will make it that much more difficult for her to win a second term.

In a Monmouth University Poll released Wednesday, just 30 percent of voters in six districts represented by a Republican in 2016, including Sherrill’s, supported impeachment, while 65 percent opposed the move.

“Mikie Sherrill jumping on the crazy train with her fellow Democrat colleagues who are obsessed with throwing our country into a constitutional crisis will cost her re-election in 2020,” McAdams said.

But Krista Jenkins, a political science professor at Fairleigh Dickinson University and director of its opinion poll, said that Sherrill’s reticence to support impeachment proceedings for months, and only after new revelations emerged, could help her fend off such attacks.

That helps develop a narrative of a lawmaker "who isn’t pushed around by the Democratic leadership,” Jenkins said.

“As somebody who was defending this country in the military, to have a president who is potentially putting the interests of himself over national security, that’s a no-no for someone with her training and her background.”

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